Heralded in some circles as the heir to Bruce Springsteen’s mantle, Steve Earle qualifies in many ways: His songs focus on blue-collar Americana, he fronts a great band, and he likes to perform marathon shows. Judging from Thursday’s House of Blues performance, though, Earle can still learn a lot — from Springsteen or somebody — about pacing a set. Although, from past experience, this night may have been an exception in that respect.
Onstage for more than 150 minutes, Earle demonstrated that (in addition to the pluses noted above), he sure knows a lot of slow and medium-tempo songs, even allowing for the fact that several, including “Copperhead Road,” “The Devil’s Right Hand” and “My Old Friend the Blues” are well above average. The first break from lethargic tempos came near the end of the set with the reggae standard “Johnny Too Bad.”
Although witty between numbers, Earle’s choice of songs was particularly dour; it may be time to revive “My Baby Worships Me,” from his rockabilly period.
It wasn’t until the encore segments that he demonstrated what he and the current edition of the Dukes could do, alternating “British hillbilly” songs by the Beatles (“Baby’s in Black”) and Rolling Stones (“Sweet Virginia”), the Troggs’ “Wild Thing” and the Flying Burrito Brothers’ “Sin City” and his own “Guitar Town” (peppy, if not exactly a barnburner), “I Ain’t Ever Satisfied,” and a raging “Johnny Come Lately” in which he brought his opening act, his guitarist’s wife and pennywhistler Don Gillis along for the very satisfying ride.
Openers the V-Roys are a Knoxville, Tenn., quartet who modernize the concept of “power pop” — business suits, well-crafted, relatively brief songs — and are signed to Earle’s E-Squared label, distributed by Warner Bros. In the middle of Earle’s set, he brought forth temporary Duke guitarist Buddy Miller and his wife, Julie, for a few numbers. Both solo artists for Hightone Records (Julie also has recorded Contemporary Christian for Myrrh), their catchiest number may have been the original “I Don’t Mean Maybe,” which sounds as though it may have been rescued from Johnny Horton’s safe-deposit box.